Theology of Reverse Mission

Posted on June 13, 2013by israelolofinjana

The subject of reverse mission, that is, missionaries and pastors from former mission field now ministering in Europe and North America is becoming a phenomenon that is attracting the attention of both academics and the media. The BBC documentary titled reverse missionaries which was aired last year is an example of the latter.[1]  Within academic circles and mission practitioners the question remains, is reverse mission a rhetoric or a reality? I believe only time will answer this question because we are still living through missionaries and pastors being sent by churches and mission agencies from the global south into Europe and North America.  To illustrate, this week I was speaking at a mission conference organised by Global Connections ) of which the theme was, Passion for mission: Mission to a Dark Continent. The conference had speakers who are pastors and missionaries from Nigeria, Kenya, Peru and Zambia sharing their stories and missionary journeys in Britain. One thing the four stories had in common was the fact that they were all ministering within a multicultural context or in strategic partnership with British indigenous churches or mission agencies. Also at the conference I met a missionary couple who have only arrived from Nigeria in the last three weeks. Their church in Jos, Nigeria have just commissioned and sent them over here as missionaries! All these indicate that we are still living through this phenomenon and therefore it is inconclusive the jury is still out!

As one of the speakers at the conference one of the questions I was asked was whether there is any theological justification for using the term ‘Reverse Mission’. In essence, what is the theology behind reverse mission? It is in response to this question that I write this piece. As someone who came to the UK as a missionary, I believe there are four theological reasons for reverse mission. Firstly is the understanding that God is a missionary. It was mission that led God to create the world in the first place. This was also played out in the Old Testament by God revealing himself through the children of Israel to the other nations. It was this understanding that also saw God sending Jesus, his only son, to redeem humanity. The redemptive work continued through the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church as we see in the Acts of the Apostles. In essence, the Triune God is a missionary!  If Jesus, the head of the church is a missionary, automatically, his body will have to be a missionary people (Ephesians 5: 25-32). It is within this understanding that the church must see her mission. We are only joining in with God’s mission and not ours. One implication of this is that  just as some European missionaries heard God’s call to go to Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean so are these former recipients  now hearing the same God calling them back to Europe. The same God that called some European missionaries is the same that is calling missionaries from the global south. This is why it is important to listen to the stories of pastors from the global south when they use expressions such as, “God has called me to the UK”, “the Lord said to me to travel to Europe as his servant” or “I sense God’s call to Britain” Expressions such as these confirms God’s call and they should not be ignored. Often times academics writing about this subject concludes that it is only diasporic factors such as economic recession, inflation, political dictatorship and instability that have brought people from the global south to Europe or North America.  While these are part of the story, they do not tell the entire story and credence must be given to those coming for the sake of the Gospel. This is why some have left good jobs to come over here as missionaries or pastors. The truth is some of them will be better off in their country but the sense of God’s call motivates them to leave behind their lucrative jobs in search of fulfilment in God. Read more